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Matt at the Music: From Punk to Funk & Beyond
Matt crisscrosses the country for sounds as fresh and crisp as Lettuce, runs into Don Diablo at Trio, and finds Something Corporate outside a Vegas pop-punk festival for kids "our age."
This journey started on a front porch in the Belmont neighborhood in the middle of October.
I was asked by a new acquaintance, Dave (who recently moved to Charlotte), if I had any interest in going to see an EDM show with him and his wife. They themselves were about to embark on an overseas trip to a city-wide festival called the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) in the Netherlands.
I had never partook, but my wife’s godparents (who are hitting sixty) continue to travel across the US and beyond attending festivals with nothing but high praise for the scene. This had me very intrigued, and being the open-minded punk rock kid that I am, I said yes and Venmoed the couple to go see Don Diablo at the Trio nightclub here in South End.
Off to Vegas
Fast forward one week and I’m on a plane with my wife, brother, and brother-in-law to Las Vegas to experience our pop-punk Woodstock: the When We Were Young festival. This concert featured four stages with over forty bands from my formative years in 90 degree heat, all headlined by Green Day and blink-182.
The lineup rivaled any Warped Tour from the early 00’s, and was my white whale to hunt down. The festival was amazing, featured beautiful collaborations, and brought me back to my teen years, the only difference being my adult heavy support shoes instead of a pair of Chucks.
The festival, however, was not the best thing we saw in a weekend that included watching Darren Aronofsky’s Postcards from Earth at the newly opened Sphere.
The cherry-on-top was securing sold out sideshow tickets on October 20, the night before the festival, at the House of Blues to see Something Corporate playing together with their original lineup for the first time in twenty years.
The group features the piano-playing, soulful lyricist Andrew McMahon who later went on to found Jack’s Mannequin and Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness. Their music has OC California vibes, catchy riffs, and provides a choice between jumping around or singing along to his charismatic voice. The songs range from catchy pop hits like “Hurricane” and “I Woke Up in a Car” to their classic genre version of “Stairway to Heaven” and the beautiful “Konstantine”.
I’ve been to a hundred club shows and this was the most packed house I’ve ever attended. The crowd skewed older, like my own crew, mostly in their mid-thirties to forties. The energy surrounding us and everyone else seeing the original band perform for the first time in two decades was buzzing throughout the room. These were lifelong diehard fans.
We had general admission seats on the floor - any other kind of ticket would have been impossible to get - and we were surrounded by layers of people in the standing room only areas and above in the balcony. No one was sitting for a second of this show, and when the lights went down for their first song the crowd was alive.
Last time I experienced them live was in a ballroom in Rochester, New York with my brother on Halloween 2003. The lead singer jumped up onto his piano stomping on the keys dressed in only a diaper as he was dressed as a baby for the set.
You couldn’t tell twenty years had passed by the energy, precision, and love they showed throughout the show. They played for around ninety minutes bouncing from familiar favorites to slower medleys from their small but dynamite album catalog. They had video interludes of each band member from when they were teenagers talking about why they joined the band. It was a nostalgic night together where we got to connect the past and present with my loved ones around me.
Back in Charlotte
Moving on to the next Thursday after Vegas, we walked into the Fillmore over at the Music Factory on October 26. Lettuce, the funk/rock/jam band from Boston, was about to hit the stage.
Lettuce formed in the early 90’s as all of its members were attending the Berklee College of Music. They feature drums, bass, guitar, piano/organ, saxophone, and trumpet but all members seemingly play a variety of extra vibrant tones combined to create an atmosphere of groove.
Last year, they sold out the Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa; this year, the set up at the Fillmore was intimate. They draped down the extra levels in the back of the venue and it felt more like a cozy club than a midsize venue that can seat up to 2,000.
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There are no frills with this band. They walk out onto the stage and start building their sound. The crowd was a mix of funk lovers, jam band enthusiasts, and people who wanted to dance to world class musicians.
The show started out with a Herbie Hancock cover of “Blast Off” and into some favorites like “Waffles” and a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Like any great jam band, they leave plenty of meat on the bone for all their players to showcase. Lettuce features amazing solos, back and forth rhythms, and very little singing. The music is the main reason everyone bought tickets.
Unlike Killers of the Flower Moon’s three and a half hour runtime with no intermissions, they took twenty midway through to give everyone a chance to catch their breath. When they came back, they marched forward filling every corner of the venue with their sound. Heads bobbed in unison, people danced, and the slow build up of songs often led to explosive energetic finishes to the delight of all attending.
At one point, I thought I had my fill (it was a school night), but they came through with a song I’d never seen played live, called “Vámonos.” It stopped my friend (and erstwhile Y’all Weekly contributor) Adrian, my wife, and myself in our tracks and was the highlight of the set.
It’s not my all time favorite genre of music, but absolutely nothing compares to live rock/funk/jazz where people can let their hair down and get loose. Don’t miss Lettuce next time they come to town.
Our final stop came this past Friday, November 3 at the Trio nightclub on Mint Street.
My friends Dave and Lauren, the Chekov’s gun of this article who had just come back from that festival in Amsterdam, were my EDM shepherds to their favorite DJ, Don Diablo (also from the Netherlands).
Besides my early twenties in the Uptown mall formerly known as the Epicentre during the heyday of Whisky River and Suite, I never partook in dance music let alone real EDM. I felt like a thirty-nine year old poser (as a punk rock kid, trust me there are plenty of gatekeepers), but then realized everyone was there just to have a great time.
The venue was phenomenal and felt state of the art as you can read more about here. Dave mentioned only one other venue in the country (in NYC) had a sound system as technically impressive as the one installed here. There were various light installations, lasers, and CO2 cryojets. Walking in as a newbie, I was merely trying to take in the vibe until the main act hit the stage.
All the pomp & circumstance of lasers, lights, and CO2 clouds had me wondering if this was more window dressing than substance. I love LIVE bands and music being played in front of me that showcases their musicianship. While the art of DJing is incredibly impressive, I didn’t know how it would translate aesthetically watching in person.
Don Diablo blew me away.
His building and layering of beats, selection of deep cuts (from Zeppelin riffs to Britney Spears choruses), and his ability to guide the energetic crowd to a fever pitch was masterful. It felt more like watching athletes such as Kevin De Bruyne work a ball through the midfield at Manchester City or Max Verstappen hit the smallest gap at Monaco than a standard band set. There was beauty in watching him use all the tools at his disposal to get the crowd to feel what he wanted them to or move to the beat he commanded.
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The sound at Trio was absolutely the loudest and most impressive thing I’ve heard in my life. The bass rippled my shirt on every beat and exploded out of the speakers. To say that earplugs are an absolute must in an understatement.
As the show closed out, we headed to the back patio area to finish our last drinks as they cleared out the venue. Dave, Lauren, and some of their friends were bummed that they must have missed Don Diablo leaving to head to his next show in Orlando. As we were the only ones still around the security was about to ask us to leave.
Out of nowhere, the back door pops open.
Don Diablo comes out and walks right by us. Dave, who had just seen his set in Amsterdam shouts, “Hey Don! Told you we’d be seeing you soon.” Don instantly recognized the couple, had a big smile on face, and told them they were amazing and he loved them as he walked into his transport. A perfect ending to a dope night.
After reflecting on three different shows, in three different types of clubs, with three different genres of music, I kept wanting to distinguish the differences of each. The more I thought about it the more I came up with the same conclusions. The Charlotte music scene is alive and well, with world class venues both big and small. You don’t have to go all the way to Vegas to have fun.
Going to see live music is still a priority in this city. It doesn’t matter the genre, people need to dance, sing, and connect with others to share in communal artistic experiences. Get out and support local venues and live music!